Review Summary: It didn't have to be this way
We may never know why Heights kicked out Thomas Debaere – the vocalist who, for many, made Heights who they were. Dead Ends
was riff-laden but packed full of synths, guitar tremolos and pianos to bridge into a Devil Sold His Soul-like atmosphere, and tying it together were Debaere’s shrieked and anguished vocals. Although the music often followed the same formula, the band members were still young and holding an exciting USP it didn’t seem like it’d be long before they created something truly great and unique. Last year they moved one step closer, releasing two of their best songs yet in the bass heavy “These Streets” and more melodic “Gold Coast”. But with the atmospheric touches of their début largely gone and Debaere attempting a deeper vocal style, their desire to move in a grittier direction was apparent. And not three weeks later Debaere was gone.
With their high pitch, Alex Monty’s vocals don’t sound a million miles from Debaere’s, but they never reach the brilliant levels his did, often breaking and lacking power, and the clean backing vocals sing lazy melodies and rarely fit well with the heavier parts of the music. The instrumental sections are dull as well – the riffs simple and the beef of the music reduced to monotonous chugging and the occasional uninspired guitar lead. Old Lies For Young Lives
sometimes feels like it isn't completely ready to give up those old elements anyway; “Windowless” ends with a drawn out piano section accompanied by synths and “Wake Up, Fall Asleep” also contains synths as well as a string of melodic singing and gentle guitar plucking. It all means that the album lacks cohesion, focus and fluidity, and when it does have those things it's just boring. The good aspects are scattered throughout the music rather than woven into the sound itself and these moments are never particularly noteworthy anyway – the vocals on “Eleven Eyes” (something’s really wrong when the best moment on an album is by a guest musician), the bit in “Wake Up, Fall Asleep” where the guitars come crashing in alongside light strings, etc.
It’d be unfair to claim that Heights just don’t care anymore, but whereas Dead Ends
seemed to be on the brink of something big, Old Lies For Young Lives
sees Heights chasing greatness. It isn’t even obvious how exactly they intend to capture it, since little actually tries to make up for the reduction in atmospheric elements – neither in aggression, nor in melody – and “Eleven Eyes” is the only track where the music comes together to create any sort of consistent vigour. Maybe there’s no link between Debaere’s exit and the shift in sound. After all, his vocals were versatile and able to handle both the stormy atmosphere that pervaded the début and the band’s grimier songs. But if the line-up change was
a musical decision, it was truly a stupid one, because even if Heights didn’t dump the man who wrote the good bits in their music (and it wouldn’t surprise me if they have), they’ve certainly kicked out the vocalist who made it sound interesting.